What factors helped you decide to use Singapore Math as the math option?

Dear Carrie

What factors helped you decide to use Singapore Math as the math option?

I am curious what factors helped you decide to use Singapore Math as the math option for the curriculum packages. I do realize with Heart of Dakota we may decide to use a program of our own. However, I am simply curious what drew you to choose Singapore over other programs. What factors helped you decide Singapore would be the one? Thank you!


“Ms. Please Share What Factors Helped Decide to Use Singapore”

Dear “Ms. Please Share What Factors Helped You Decide to Use Singapore,”

You may be sorry you asked what made me decide to use Singapore Math! Here’s a long reply to a tough question. As you mentioned, you are more than welcome to decide to use your own math curriculum with any of our programs (and we do realize that there are many excellent math programs to use). However, we have tried many of the big-name, and not so big-name, math programs for at least a year each and found many of them didn’t fit our family well for a variety of reasons.

Singapore Math is time-conscious instead of time-consuming.

Many of the programs were just too time-consuming in the amount of teacher presentation required. As we added more children to our homeschool, I realized a 30 minute math presentation for one kiddo would quickly turn into 2 hours of math presentation when multiplied times my 4 boys. That would leave precious little time for the many other necessary school subjects. Singapore Math doesn’t waste any time. It is time-conscious, instead of time-consuming. This is one reason that made me decide to use Singapore Math.

Singapore Math requires almost no preparation.

Some of the programs required too much preparation or planning ahead of time prior to teaching. When I wasn’t prepared, my students were wasting time waiting on me. Other programs had way too much drill or too many problems daily for my non-math loving oldest son. So, I found I was tweaking which problems to do daily and eventually the programs hardly resembled the original program anymore. Singapore math is open-and-go. It requires almost no preparation. This is another reason that made me decide to use Singapore Math.

Singapore Math is in keeping with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of math.

In keeping with the Charlotte Mason philosophy for math, I wanted a program with short lessons and some hands-on component. I also wanted  little to no preparation, as well as a workbook form (to cut down on time spent copying problems). Likewise, I wanted a math program that emphasized higher-level thinking and reasoning along with computation. Finally, I wanted it to be economical if possible. So when we began with Singapore Math, we knew we’d found the fit for us. These are still more reasons that made me decide to use Singapore Math.

I created hands-on lessons in the early years and wrote easy-to-follow schedules.

Where the program lacked hands-on in the early years, I decides to add in lessons to include that. The one problem we have found with Singapore is that the clean page layout and the few problems on each page makes it easy to assign too much daily, thus complicating what should be a short and sweet program. We compensate for that by including schedules in our guides that follow the original Singapore pacing, completing two workbooks in one school year. We phase out the hands-on teacher lessons starting with 3A/3B and move toward the textbook/workbook schedule only at that point. With a strong hands-on background from the previous Singapore years, kiddos are ready for that change.

We endorse Singapore Math through 6A and 6B. It gets more teacher-intensive after that point, so we suggest alternatives prior to continuing on to the math that comes after 6A/6B. Since Singapore has such a solid base in problem-solving and reasoning, and an advanced scope and sequence, the switch to almost any other program should be a fairly painless one. So, to make a long story short, all kids are different, and we know one math program will not fit them all. But, we do want to share what we’ve found with others in the hope that Singapore Math may be a fit for some of you as well. At least now you know the reasons that made me decide to use Singapore Math!


Does my son need to know the letter names to be able to read?

Dear Carrie

Does my son need to know the letter names and sounds to be able to read? 

I have a son who will be 7 soon. We have been working on letters and their sounds since he was 3 years old. We have used Leap Frog videos, Reading Eggs, Star Fall, online games – but he doesn’t retain them at all. He knows how to spell his name which has two E’s and two T’s.  However, if I ask him to write those letters, he doesn’t remember them. This is true for most letter names. Last night I was pointing to letters on the keyboard and asking him what they were. I would point to the T, and he would say “E”.  So, then I would point to the E, and he would say “E”. It was this way with most of the letters. At this point, I have no idea how to help. He knows his letter sounds. But, what if he doesn’t know his letter names? I guess my question is, does my son need to know the letter names and sounds to be able to read?


“Ms. Stumped on Letter Names and Sounds”

Dear “Ms. Stumped on Letter Names and Sounds,”

Children do not need to know letter names in order to read. So, I would focus more on learning the letter sounds instead of the letter names and letter sounds both. Learning both names and sounds can be a challenge to keep straight! Of course, later it helps to know the letter names in order to spell, to copy, to alphabetize, and to use the dictionary. However, to read only the sounds are needed.

Using a formal curriculum will help systematically teach letter sounds.

Next, I am wondering if your child has had any formal curriculum that actually teaches the letter sounds and reviews them on a daily basis? The reason I ask is that all of the online options and videos you mentioned are great, but in order for the sounds to really stick (for quite a few kiddos), many different senses are needed to be employed and much practice is needed. This doesn’t mean that drill, drill, drill is the needed method. It just means that regular practice with the sounds in a variety of ways will make all the difference.

Once you begin phonics, keep going and don’t take breaks.

Once your kiddo starts to pick up the sounds you keep on going, making sure you are not pausing and taking breaks. Phonics is one of those things that once you begin, it helps to keep some steady practice going until kids really grab on. We took the last three summers off with my last little guy during the process of teaching him phonics. I cannot tell you how much I regret that! It was at a time when he really needed to keep on going, but I was just so busy writing that I lost steam with the phonics.

Commit to working on phonics 10-15 minutes daily for five times a week.

So, one thing that I would encourage you to do is either commit to really beginning phonics (and learning letter sounds) formally. Then, know you’re in it for the two-year haul until most of the phonics is learned. Or, wait until you are ready to be more committed. I am not saying that you need to commit vast quantities of time to phonics daily, but I am saying that 10-15 minutes daily (5 times a week) is needed on a regular basis to truly see progress.

Phonics instruction requires teaching and interaction.

Phonics is one of those areas that also requires a teacher. It requires interaction and the teacher and child sitting together and sharing the words, books, letter sounds. It is work, but it pays off. We did The Reading Lesson here in a stop and start fashion that really set us back. After we finished it completely, I had to pull out an old phonics program I had here and go almost completely through that simply to build fluency and to review (because we had stopped The Reading Lesson over two different summer breaks on two different years, which made remembering everything really tough for my little one).

Consistency is key!

I could have probably gone back through The Reading Lesson all over again. However, I just didn’t want to redo it all again. So, I share this to let you know that amount of teacher time spent steadily teaching phonics can make a big difference. I am convicted of that anew, and I did not take phonics off off ever again with my youngest! He progressed, but I could see that if I’d taken another summer off all of his slow but steady progress would have been lost…again. With my older three, I was much more consistent early on in teaching them phonics. What a difference that made!

It is also possible that your son has this as an area of struggle for other reasons. We won’t know that for sure right now unless you have already devoted several years steadily teaching him phonics five times a week with no progress made. So, I would recommend choosing a phonics program and sticking with it! Then, let’s see what happens next!


Can you help me get over my guilt of not prereading my son’s books?

Dear Carrie

Can you help me get over my guilt over not prereading my son’s books?

My son is starting World History next week. I ordered his things from Heart of Dakota last summer. I really meant to pre-read his books, but I haven’t been able to. Life has been so busy! We enjoy five Heart of Dakota guides in our home. I find it very manageable overall – having eight children is busy no matter what. However, I’ve always pre-read all of the books in the past. I’m feeling guilty. Not to mention, I truly LOVE reading all the books usually! They are excellent, and I enjoy the reading for ME. I just can’t seem to find the time this year. I thought about starting my son later, just so I can pre-read the books, but he’s ready to start and not willing to wait. He thinks the books look amazing too. Can you help me get over my guilt at not prereading the books? A strange question, I know, but it’s the one I have.


“Please Help Me Not to Feel Guilty About Not Prereading My Son’s Books”

Dear “Please Help Me Not to Feel Guilty About Not Prereading My Son’s Books,”

I believe that there are seasons in life and that each season has its own areas of focus. I didn’t have Heart of Dakota’s guides written for my oldest son. He was always ahead of my writing. As my oldest son was going through his homeschool years, I was too busy with babies, toddlers, work, church activities, meals, laundry, and the rigors of writing guides, etc. to have time to pre-read my oldest son’s books. I had to rely on others to do this for me, and I had to heed any warnings I found anywhere to help me. I skimmed the books as we did our lessons, but I quickly realized I could either teach or read, but I didn’t have time for both. You may be in a season like this now.   I see that you have a very full house with much on your plate. Prereading may be impossible.

Guilt is a joy-stealer.

As moms, we are so quick to bear the burden of guilt if we aren’t doing things to their fullest potential. I just wanted to encourage you today that guilt is a joy-stealer. I know, because I let it steal my joy many times. Still today, I continue to have to let things go in order to do the most important things. Just remember that as long as you lean on The Lord, He will fill-in our gaps. My oldest son is a very mature, thoughtful, steady, discerning, hard-working young man. He has grown so much in his faith simply by using much of what we’ve written, or testing much of it for us. He had a less than perfectly planned education with resources I was not able to pre-read thoroughly and still has thrived in spite of me!

Children need to be surrounded by excellent material that points them toward the Lord.

I believe that children need to be surrounded by excellent material that points them toward The Lord on a regular basis. The interaction with good material and God’s Word keeps their minds filled with those thoughts for much of the day. I believe that as homeschool parents we have time on our side, meaning that the sheer amount of time we spend together affords us opportunities all along the way to discuss and mentor our kids. This means that not every moment has to be spent in training and teaching every lesson to the fullest, because the moments through the years added all together will provide that needed time opportunity. As we move through our days I try to be aware of who needs what from me the most. This helps me stay focused.

Looking back to when my children were your children’s ages, I found a previous post of mine I will share a portion of here…

…This year my youngest really needs my time for phonics instruction. He also needs to learn to be kinder to his brother. I can see his heart is also tender toward The Lord. So, he needs encouragement to continue understanding The Lord as his Savior. I can see my next son needs my time for writing and proofreading what he writes. He also is coming into puberty and needs my time to understand his changing emotions and body. He is my sensitive child, so Resurrection to Reformation will need more monitoring for the warnings as he reads. Yet, I know from those tough readings fruitful discussions will come.

My next son is my creative child. He works very independently, so I need to make sure to draw him out. Our health discussions this year will be a priority for me to keep us close. Pilgrim’s Progress will be another area I really want to oversee. He is grappling with a deeper faith, and I want to encourage that. My oldest is ready to start online college classes. I know one-on-one discussions at opportune moments are necessary for him as he makes life-changing choices. So, those are my goals for my boys this year. Prereading their material, while a worthwhile goal, falls behind these focal points for me. I do realize my situation is different, because I have read the materials as I’ve planned the guides, however for my oldest son’s education that wasn’t the case…

As you can see from my past post, keeping goals for each child in mind diminishes guilt.

Keeping my most important goals for each child in mind when I begin a homeschool year helps me feel less guilty when I can’t do everything I personally want to do. I just keep my eyes on the most important things and steadily move forward. The guides contain warnings for anything I need to know about for the day, and I take heart in that. I try to remember that the plans are designed for the child to interact and think about things that point them toward The Lord and to give them a solid, academic education. If I just do what is planned in the guides each day, I feel good about completing that. I focus on the fact that time is on our side in the years ahead as we travel the homeschool path. Someday there will be another season, with different goals. For now, I am learning each day to be as content as possible in the season that I am undoubtedly in!


Can you point me in the right direction for math?

Dear Carrie

Can you point me in the right direction for math for my middle children?

I have five children happily using Heart of Dakota! My question is about math. My oldest is doing great using another math. The two youngest started with Singapore Math, so there’s no problem there. The two I need help with are my middle children, who are 9 and 11. I didn’t know anything about Singapore Math until a couple years ago. By then, we’d already purchased the math we were planning on using. I decided to give the one we had a try. Well, they did alright overall. However, mental math concepts haven’t been great. Now, I am thinking I’d love to use Singapore Math with these two. However, they’d be frustrated to go way back in levels, and that is where they’d probably place. Can you give me a little direction as to what I should look into from here? Just looking for some advice from a trusted source!!


“Ms. Please Help Point Me in the Right Direction for Math”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Point Me in the Right Direction for Math,”

I must admit that I tried my share of math programs with my oldest son. I did a year each of BJU, Abeka, Math-U-See, Calvert, Strayer-Upton, MCP, Teaching Textbooks (2 years of this), Math Essentials, Life of Fred, and VideoText (three years of this). I was always looking for the “perfect” fit for my mathy son and never finding it. I wish desperately I had used Singapore Math with him. However, there were no U.S. editions at that time (and I just didn’t want the headache of adding in non-U.S. weights/measures/money etc.). I think it’s safe to say I tried going nearly every possible direction in math with my oldest son!

Rather than changing directions, staying the course with the math you have could honestly be the best choice.

In looking back, it would have been better if I’d just stayed the course with any of these programs. Some were stronger than others, however my constant switching eventually gave my son the feeling he wasn’t good at math! It also left some pretty big holes in his math learning. So, my first advice would be to minimize switching as much as possible! It could be a change in direction is not needed, and staying the course with the math you have would honestly be best.

I see math as a ‘sit down with my kids’ subject now!

Also, in looking back, I have since realized that I wasn’t as available to my son with his math as I should have been! I have remedied this with my next kiddos. I make sure I sit and go over the lesson and stay with them to help them as they work the problems. Math is my “sit down with my kids” subject now!

Be sure to be available during math to give good guidance, direction, and every bit of help necessary.

My own oldest son was mathy, so I just let him go on his own much of the time. Eventually, when he hit bumps in the road and needed more direction, I couldn’t help him very easily (because I hadn’t stayed with him on the math journey). It is tough to just jump into various math programs on the fly. So, my second piece of advice is to make sure you are available during your kiddos’ math sessions and that you are giving good guidance, direction, and every bit of help needed to help them succeed.

Make sure you do not expect mastery of every concept.

The next thing I realized is that math programs regularly go back over what was taught before and teach it again, more deeply at each subsequent pass. This means that I need to know that mastering the material is not the goal at every level. In many levels, simply exposing kiddos to the concept is the goal. So, if I expect mastery of every concept, my goal differs from the math text goal. This means that I’ll think they need more practice to truly master something, and the text is already moving on! So, if I digress and add more practice, then my kiddos get frustrated and so do I when they don’t master a concept. More practice then equals more frustration.

If I instead realize that we were just to touch on the concept as exposure, and we’re coming back to it later when the child has had a chance to grow and mature more in his/her thinking, then my math experience will be so much better! So, my third piece of advice is to make sure you do not expect mastery of every concept! This is an exhausting way to learn math.

It could be time for a change in direction, or it could be staying the course is the best direction to take.

With all of this in mind, it may be possible that you can stay the course with your current program. If, instead, you are having tears every day, even with keeping in mind all I’ve shared above, then it may be time for a change in direction. With your 9 year-old, you are definitely not too late for Singapore. I would give the placement test and see where to place that child and begin there. With your 11 year-old, I would also give the placement test just to see where that child will place. This will help in determining what should happen next for that child. For more details about giving the placement test, click here! But before switching directions, especially with your 11 year-old, just be sure you need to! Sometimes, staying the course ends up to be better.


What are the cons to having youngers just “listening in”?

Dear Carrie

Why you don’t advise having children younger than the target age range of the HOD guide listen in with the older student’s guide?

I am new to Heart of Dakota, and I just ordered your catalog. The first thing that jumps out at me is I just love Heart of Dakota’s book choices! I have a gap between my children. My oldest is 10 years old, and my other two are 6 and 2 years old. I think our 10 year-old places in Creation to Christ according to your placement chart online. My 6 year-old places in Little Hearts for His Glory. I thought about just reading aloud everything from Creation to Christ to the 6 year-old. The 2 year-old can listen when he’s not destroying the house. However, I have a hunch my 6 year-old might be missing out if I do this. The 2 year-old might be lost or scared – some of the books look grown up. I guess I am wondering why you don’t recommend having children younger than the target age range of the HOD guide simply listen in with the older student’s guide?


“Ms. Please Help Me Understand the Cons of Just Listening In”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Understand the Cons of Just Listening In,”

Good question! To help you understand the cons of just listening in, I’ll share a personal story! When I went to college, I had just turned 18. I had been a certified nurse’s aide in high school and had worked weekends and summers at our local nursing home.  So, I’d decided I wanted to make nursing my major. However, at that point in my life I was already weary of school (due to my own perfectionist tendencies). I also didn’t want to accumulate much college debt. So, I enrolled in a 2 year nursing program, where I would have my R.N. degree in only two years time!  When the admissions advisor found out my certified nurse’s background, she quickly assured me I’d be able to catch on. I could just listen in and do what I could do. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was excited to start.

In the opening hours of the course, I quickly realized that I was the ONLY person in the class who was not already an L.P.N. (licensed practical nurse).   I inquired from the class instructor whether I should have my L.P.N. to be in the course. But, she assured me that it wasn’t necessary. I’d catch on just listening in and doing what I could do. By noon, I was certain she was wrong! I made it through taking the vitals. After that, I knew I was in over my head when we had to draw blood, which I’d never been trained to do (but all other class members did very easily)! I felt like a bystander. I knew I was in over my head. By 1:00, I was in the guidance office, changing my major to teaching! Listening in and just doing what I could do didn’t work for me!

Just “listening in” makes younger children feel like bystanders who are in over their heads!

I share this story to show you why it’s so important to us at HOD to make sure that each family member can contribute within his/her guide placement in a meaningful way. We do not want children to be bystanders or to be overwhelmed in their learning. Instead, we want them to be active participants who can do more than pass the time quietly trailing along, because they are truly in over their heads in every other area. We want to be sure each child is building the incremental skills needed for academic progress, spiritual growth, and character and habit training. This maturing independence helps a child contribute to the family circle and strengthens the dynamics and the bond within a family because each member is a valued contributor. We want each child to be able to do what we ask of him/her, so there is no need for continual skipping, adjusting, tweaking, or modifying.